Natural Gas Burns: A Global Concern

By Jennifer Huang | World Power II: Environment

Page 4 of 4

While the debate rages in Nigeria and Alberta, flares continue to burn around the world. According to Dr. Chris Elvidge, a scientist at the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration who studies satellite images of flares, other hot spots include northern Siberia, the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Peninsula.

The United States, like Canada, is home to plenty of flaring. According to Julia May of Communities for a Better Environment, California refineries share many of the same issues as Alberta and the Niger Delta: a lack of comprehensive studies on the community impacts of emissions, and little or no monitoring of what kind of gases are in the flares.

According to Paul Faeth, economist and managing director at the World Resources Institute, impacts on the environment and society are costs that the oil companies currently don't pay -- a phenomenon he calls "market failure."

"When people are talking about things like global warming or deforestation, the market's not good at capturing those and appropriately applying the costs to the people who may be extracting the resources or causing the problem," Faeth said.

He believes that until the flaring causes a significant financial loss to the corporations, they will have no incentive to stop.

Gopal Dayaneni, oil campaign coordinator at Project Underground, a Berkeley, California-based nonprofit that monitors the oil and mining industries, said the solution is simple: If associated gas cannot be safely captured and transported, or reinjected into the earth, it should be considered inaccessible.

"It's better to leave oil in the ground," he said, "than to get every drop of oil out by doing something that's environmentally and socially destructive."

While market economics may be a global phenomenon, high environmental regulatory standards are not.

World Bank gas flaring consultant Philip Swanson said oil companies aren't going to do something that they don't have to.

"You undertake a project to make a profit, right? The local laws give you the standards that you have to meet," he said, "and you're not generally going to go beyond those."

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